If the practice of remote participation has been authorized in a municipality, may an individual public body adopt a policy prohibiting or further restricting its use?
No. Only the adopting authority specified in 940 CMR 29.10(2) may establish restrictions on the use of remote participation. The adopting authority can authorize the practice for all public bodies within its jurisdiction but give all public bodies the opportunity to opt out of the practice, however.
What types of restrictions may an adopting authority place on remote participation?
An adopting authority, such as the Board of Selectmen in a town, may decide to adopt the practice of remote participation, but place restrictions on its use. Just as the adoption of remote participation must apply to all public bodies within the adopting authority’s jurisdiction, however, any restriction on remote participation, other than on the amount or source of payment for any costs associated with the practice, must apply uniformly to all public bodies within the adopting authority’s jurisdiction.
For instance, a Board of Selectmen may choose to adopt a policy saying that no member of any town board may participate remotely in more than three meetings each year. Or the Board may adopt a policy stating that a last minute lack of childcare shall be considered a personal emergency justifying remote participation under 940 CMR 29.10 (5)(c). However, the Board may not authorize the practice but say that only the Board of Selectmen can utilize it. The Board can say that funds for the purchase of necessary equipment will only be allocated for the Board’s use, though.
An adopting authority also may not adopt a policy that violates state or federal law. Thus, it is not permissible for an adopting authority to say that no member may participate remotely due to personal disability or geographic distance, since these are allowable reasons for remote participation under the Attorney General’s regulations. But the adopting authority can adopt a policy saying, for instance, that a public body member who wishes to participate remotely due to geographic distance must be a certain distance from the meeting location for his or her physical attendance to be considered unreasonably difficult.